On the move: Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen focuses on building city and region

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Chris Jensen is 10 hours into his day when he sits down at his desk at 2 p.m. and looks into the camera.

He is ready to film “Friday Five,” a weekly online video series featuring five things Noblesville residents need to know before the weekend.

With the enthusiasm of a news anchor, Jensen spends the next six minutes talking about the city’s Pleasant Street construction, an upcoming open house about roadway safety (where cookies will be served), tree-planting grants, frigid weather that’s on the way and how the city will commemorate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

He does it in one take—as always—and not even a call from his wife, Julie, can interrupt him.

“If I screw up in the middle of it, I’m going to keep on talking, and we’re just going to keep on rolling with it,” Jensen told IBJ.

Chris Jensen says he started “Friday Five” video posts on the city’s Facebook page in 2022 because “communication with the public is so key. Everything that people get mad about, it’s usually because they just have wrong information.” (IBJ photo/Eric Learned)

Jensen, 39, became Noblesville’s first new mayor in 16 years when he succeeded Republican John Ditslear in 2020. While the pandemic provided a roadblock about three months into his first term, Noblesville has still experienced a flurry of development in the past four years.

That’s one reason “Friday Five” is important to Jensen; the videos provide a way to communicate with residents. He also spends time each day responding to residents who call and text him on his personal cellphone, a number he freely provides, publishing it in newspaper op-eds and on social media.

Jensen said he spent too much time during his first two years as mayor swatting down rumors on social media. So, in 2022, he developed a new strategy.

“I have a platform every single week. People are ingrained. They know they can go to Facebook every Friday,” Jensen said. “I think communication with the public is so key. Everything that people get mad about, it’s usually because they just have wrong information.”

Some of his peers around the state have told Jensen he is crazy to make his phone number publicly available. But he said nobody has abused the privilege. He receives up to 25 calls and texts per week.

Ken Bubp

“I can manage that. That’s no problem,” Jensen said. “I can lie in bed at night and answer some questions. Wake up when the alarm goes off and answer some more and keep going. I might have to pee in the middle of the night, so I might even answer you then.”

Ken Bubp, an 18-year resident who lives in a 150-year-old house in Noblesville’s Old Town neighborhood, said he texted Jensen with a question about downtown development and met the mayor for lunch the next day.

“I think the bet he’s making is, it’s better to be transparent, available and accessible, and if somebody really cares and wants to talk, they’ll talk, and if they don’t, they have no excuse not to,” Bubp said.

Laura Merrifield Wilson

Laura Merrifield Wilson, a political science professor at the University of Indianapolis, said Jensen’s approach is unique.

“I think this is really innovative, and it makes people think differently about their communities,” Wilson said.

It’s a tactic that is natural to Jensen, a Republican, who calls himself “an open book.”

“I overshare, like, way too much sometimes. What do I have to lose?” he said. “Here’s my challenges. Here’s my issues. Here’s who I am. Here’s what I’m good at. Here’s what I’m bad at. It is what it is. And it’s kind of refreshing to live like that.”

Early riser

Jensen sets his alarm for 4:17 a.m. “I originally had it set for 4:20 and felt awkward about it [since 420 is slang for marijuana],” he said.

After he drinks his first black coffee of the day, he heads out the door for a 5 a.m. workout at Orangetheory Fitness. He returns home a little over an hour later to get breakfast ready for his four children.

Soon, it’s time to get ready for work. Jensen has a simple wardrobe. He loves vests and hates suits, so he picks one of the 30 vests in his closet. On this day, it’s the one with a 2024 NBA All-Star Game logo that he received when the Indiana Pacers announced they would move their developmental-league team to Noblesville.

Wearing a vest has “kind of become my brand, and so, I usually pretty much wear a vest every single day. It’s just kind of who I am,” Jensen said. “I love them. I’m a big fan. My core is warm. My arms are free.”

Once he begins his workday around 8 a.m., Jensen has a meeting or event every hour. Today’s agenda includes time to chat with individuals over breakfast and lunch, meetings with his executive staff and public safety leaders, and a tour of a new apartment building.

“I think I’m reinvigorated every single day to do the job, and I’ve hired really smart people around me who help make the job a little bit easier,” Jensen said. “And it’s because of them that I want to keep in the game and keep pushing forward.”

Jensen enjoys the political process, and he learned from some of the state’s most powerful figures.

Luke Kenley

Asked to name the people who had the biggest influences on his career, Jensen cited five Republicans: former State Sen. Luke Kenley, former State Rep. Kathy Richardson, former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman, former U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks and Gov. Eric Holcomb.

“You put those five right there, there’s a hell of a basketball team in Indiana politics,” Jensen said.

In high school, Jensen attended the Sen. Luke Kenley Leadership Conference, a program Kenley organized for senior-class and student-body presidents of the high schools in his district. Jensen later interned for Kenley when Jensen was a senior at Butler University.

“He had a lot of energy, and he had a lot of enthusiasm, and you could see right away that there needed to be some control buttons because Chris was just ready to do everything,” Kenley said. “He likes engagement, and he likes to think about a problem.”

Becky Skillman

Jensen’s first job out of college was to serve Skillman as her special assistant. He was with Skillman as she traveled to all 92 of Indiana’s counties, out of state and on foreign trade missions.

Jensen left Skillman’s side for about six months to work on a cruise ship, but Skillman said she knew he would come back. Skillman named Jensen her director of intergovernmental affairs when he returned to land.

Skillman said she thinks of Jensen as her second son. Jensen thinks of Skillman as a second mother and a second grandmother to his children.

“He thrived by learning, and he wanted to accept more and more responsibility,” Skillman said. “I knew he had a passion for public service.”

Getting busy

Jensen left state government in 2014 and went to work in the public sector. He held positions in business development for Indianapolis-based CHA Consulting Inc. and later as a client service manager for Indianapolis-based Lochmueller Group Inc.

At Ditslear’s suggestion, Jensen dipped his toe back into politics in 2015 when he ran for a seat on the Noblesville City Council.

“At first, I was a little bit hesitant because I liked being the staffer and not necessarily the politician,” Jensen said. “But also looking around Noblesville, I was 30, and I felt like maybe I represented what the future of Noblesville looked like.”

He was content with his job and his position on the City Council when the opportunity to run for mayor presented itself in 2019.

“I think politics is 95% timing, and I felt like after a while that maybe I was the one to step into the fold and be the leader that takes Noblesville kind of to the next level,” he said.

Jensen won a four-way Republican primary election and ran unopposed in the general election. He also ran unopposed in both races last year.

“It’s not lost on me every day when I wake up and think that I’m the mayor of my hometown, a city of 75,000 people,” he said.

During his first term, Jensen focused on two things: developing Noblesville’s downtown and seeking economic development opportunities, particularly on the city’s east side near Interstate 69’s Exit 210.

Bret Richardson

Bret Richardson, a sixth-generation Noblesville resident, owns two buildings on the courthouse square that date to the 1890s. He said downtown development that ensures the preservation of the area’s history is key to Noblesville’s success.

“It’s really vibrant as far as business, and that’s not always true,” Richardson said. “There are so many shuttered downtown areas across the country. If you go for a cross-country drive and you go into a small town, if they’re really up and running, it’s because people put in a lot of work.”

The Levinson, a five-story, 85-unit apartment building, was the city’s first mixed-use development built in more than a century when it opened in 2022 a block south of the courthouse square.

Four additional apartment buildings—Federal Hill Apartments, Lofts on Tenth, East Bank and Nexus—are under construction around downtown.

Aaron Smith

The five developments together will total nearly 800 apartment units.

“I think that Noblesville is in a renaissance moment,” said Aaron Smith, who represents the downtown area for the Noblesville City Council. “I think most of the county seats would kill to have half the demand that we have.”

A crucial artery

The three-phase Reimagine Pleasant Street project will make the roadway an east-west connector through downtown with a new bridge over the White River. Construction is expected to continue through the fall of 2025.

Jensen said the project is the city’s most important. Debate over an east-west connector persisted for decades before construction began early last year.

“I have said from Day 1 that, even if I get thrown out after four years, I’m building that damn road,” Jensen said. “It’s essential to the future of our city. If we want people to be able to get downtown to shop, to eat, to live, to work, we have to open up another artery.”

On the east side of town, near Ruoff Music Center, the 600-acre Innovation Mile is where city planners hope to attract companies in the medical, tech, biosciences, pharmaceutical and advanced-manufacturing sectors.

Innovation Mile in 2025 will be the new home of the Indiana Pacers’ developmental-league team when it begins play at a new 3,400-seat arena.

Residential growth is also planned on the east side. Carmel-based PulteGroup of Indiana Inc. and Indianapolis-based TWG Development LLC are planning a 600-acre development that would include more than 1,900 residential units across Boden Road from Finch Creek Park and about 2 miles north of Ruoff Music Center.

“I would say in life you have a job and a hobby,” Jensen said. “Your hobby is what you love. That’s downtown, that’s the White River, that’s the square. Well, our job is the east side, Innovation Mile and Exit 210. And we need our job to fund our hobby. So, we’ve got to have both of them humming together.”

Greg Conner

The city’s south side also received a boost early last year when Bastian Solutions, a Carmel-based subsidiary of Japan-based Toyota Industries Corp., announced it would move its corporate headquarters to a new $130 million corporate campus near East 146th Street and Promise Road.

Greg Conner, senior vice president of corporate development and marketing, said the changes underway in Noblesville made the city an enticing place for the company.

“Whether it’s Innovation Mile or all of the cool changes that his administration is working on in downtown Noblesville, it attracts companies because we want our employees to live and work in an area that has a lot for them to do,” Conner said.

Regional focus

Jensen enjoys working with leaders of other communities and pursuing policies that affect the central Indiana region.

Matt Greller

Anne Hathaway

“I think he is a rising star,” Indiana Republican Party Chair Anne Hathaway said. “He understands that vital communities create a vital region, which creates a vital state, and it all fits together.”

Jensen serves as chair of the legislative committee for AIM, formerly the Indiana Association of Cities and Towns, which works as an advocate for communities around the state.

“He’s been a real leader for not only our organization, but I think for the whole state,” said Matt Greller, AIM’s CEO. “He’s just got this sort of innate personality and ability to relate to folks and bring folks together in a fun way, but also in a way that you’re working towards a goal and trying to get something done.”

Jensen also worked with Fishers Mayor Scott Fadness to launch the Central Indiana Regional Development Authority, which now consists of 13 central Indiana cities and towns. CIRDA was formed in 2022 to increase collaboration and the ability to apply for regional grants.

Scott Fadness

“I’m an idea and policy guy, for sure, and Chris is probably on the political, people side,” Fadness said. “So, as a partnership, that’s kind of the division of labor at times.”

Jensen extended a hand to the nearly 30 new mayors across the state who took office this month.

Carmel Mayor Sue Finkam said she leaned on Jensen’s expertise as she prepared to succeed seven-term Mayor Jim Brainard. She called Jensen to discuss his organizational chart, salary ranges and how work gets done in Noblesville.

“He’s just been so open and helpful with any question I ask,” Finkam said. “He said to me, ‘Noblesville is an open book. Let me know what you need. I’ll be happy to help you.’”

While Jensen relishes being mayor of his hometown, he acknowledged that he is not a lifer in the position and will not spend 28 years in office like Brainard did.

He has no interest in running for the Statehouse or Congress and enjoys being in an executive role.

“I could not imagine a scenario that I would have any impact in Congress, nor I would find any satisfaction,” he said.

Whenever the day comes that he decides to take a new path, Jensen said, he knows he will have the support of the people who helped get him to this point. Kenley, for one, has high hopes for him.

“I know that he will have opportunities, and hopefully he’ll find the way that not only can he continue to have the same kind of enjoyment and satisfaction out of what he does, but to be successful at it,” Kenley said. “That’s the benefit of being young. You still have lots of horizons available to you.”•

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5 thoughts on “On the move: Noblesville Mayor Chris Jensen focuses on building city and region

  1. Nice feature on Mayor Jensen, who’s done a great job in Noblesville. Building Pleasant St, which required a lot of money and inconvenience as well as some controversial property takings, was very courageous.

  2. I grew up in the boomimng suburbs of Charlotte. In the Observer I read the business reporter Doug Smith and also the Charlotte Business Journal. Rarely if ever do I remember reading anything about mayors or goverment agencies or subsidies in those business sections/paper. However, here in “conservative” Republican central Indiana, where the northern suburbs are sort-of “booming”, though I’m not really sure about the jobs supporting it, all the news is about this mayor and that public-private partnership. Where are the Hugh McColls, Johnny Harrises, John Belks (yes, he was mayor but his real juice was head of Belk Stores) of central Indiana? Maybe the Charlotte area is the same now where the Business Journal praises the Concord and Rock Hills mayors constantly, but I don’t think so.

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